Reel Reviews | Luther: Never Too Much (Sundance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

If you know, you know — there’s only one Luther. Acclaimed Festival alum Dawn Porter invites audiences on a musical journey into the life of the musical icon Luther Vandross, the man with the soulful velvet voice in Luther: Never Too Much.

Luther Vandross started his career supporting David Bowie, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, and more. His undeniable talent earned platinum records and accolades, but he struggled to break out beyond the R&B charts. Intensely driven, he overcame personal and professional challenges to secure his place among the greatest vocalists in history.

After a long string of powerful political documentaries including The Lady Bird Diaries, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and Bobby Kennedy for President, Luther: Never Too Much is only the second documentary directed by Dawn Porter without a political focus.  While in the past Porter has had the heavy task of taking deep subjects and people and creating informative and engaging stories about them, in this case, she turns her lens upon one of the most well-loved musical icons in history, Luther Vandross.  Using an archival tapestry of performances and recording sessions, Porter immerses us in his legendary musical talent as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Porter then goes beyond the spotlight to delve into the man behind the music — insights from musicians and friends alongside archival interviews with Luther himself reveal his humor, frustrations, loneliness, and unwavering dedication to his craft.

Everyone thinks that they know Luther Vandross, but this documentary will change your mind.  Porter and her crew amasses information from the very beginnings of the career of Vandross both in footage and interviews from those closest to him in life, his lifelong coterie of musicians and singers.  Yet the documentary takes you on a linear journey through the life of Luther and adds new testimonies to his life and work from people like Mariah Carey, Valerie Simpson, Roberta Flack, and Dionne Warwick.

While the movie is about Luther, Luther’s legacy is his music.  Thankfully, this documentary is chocked full of his music.  From beginning to end, the music is everywhere.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that you will never hear some of Luther’s music the same way after watching this documentary.  There are some insights into a couple of his songs that make you re-imagine exactly what the song means to Luther himself. Good luck not singing along and dancing in your seat.

Luther: Never Too Much delivers a sensitive and jubilant celebration of Luther Vandross, the man, his music, and his impact upon the world. Some viewers will develop a new admiration for Luther, while others will be reflectively transported to moments when his timeless melodies were the soundtrack to their lives. It is a guarantee that you will have to binge on his music when it is over.  More good news, a soundtrack will be released when the movie is.

Grade:  A